Leveraging Noncognitive Skills to Foster Bar Exam Success: an Analysis of the Efficacy of the Bar Passage Program at Fiu Law

Publication year2021
CitationVol. 99

99 Nebraska L. Rev. 141. Leveraging Noncognitive Skills to Foster Bar Exam Success: An Analysis of the Efficacy of the Bar Passage Program at FIU Law


Leveraging Noncognitive Skills to Foster Bar Exam Success: An Analysis of the Efficacy of the Bar Passage Program at FIU Law ABSTRACT


Raul Ruiz [*]


ABSTRACT

With falling bar exam passage rates, many law schools have implemented bar exam preparation programs but are still struggling to improve bar exam passage rates. The increase in law school matriculants with Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores below 150 had a statistically significant negative correlation with national mean Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) scores, and with the new American Bar Association (ABA) Standard 316 mandating a 75% bar passage rate, law schools are facing mounting pressure to ensure that their graduates are ready and able to pass their bar examination expeditiously or risk losing ABA accreditation.

Law schools have been frustrated by the lack of results with their internal bar exam preparation programs. They often struggle to identify why their students continue to fail the bar exam. Not much has been written about the theory, design, implementation, and evaluation of an effective law school bar exam preparation program. This Article will discuss each of those areas with the goal of helping law schools achieve an important milestone: increasing bar passage rates for their students and maintaining ABA accreditation.

This Article will discuss what has caused a decrease in bar exam scores nationwide and how the bar preparation program at the Florida International University College of Law (FIU or the FIU College of Law) has counteracted declining pass rates. The focus of the bar prep

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program at FIU will be discussed in detail, so other law schools may utilize those same concepts.

TABLE OF CONTENTS


I. Introduction .......................................... 143


II. What Is Causing Low Bar Passage Rates? ............. 144
A. "It's the LSAT!", Said a Voice ...................... 147
B. It's (Mostly) Law School Performance, Though ..... 150
C. Adding Federal Civil Procedure Introduced a Problem: Cognitive Load ........................... 152
D. Conclusion ........................................ 157


III. Theory of Design of a Law School Bar Exam Preparation Program .................................. 158
A. Focus on Skills, Sprinkle Some Doctrine ........... 159
B. Exploring Noncognitive Factors in More Detail ..... 163
1. Academic Behaviors ........................... 164
2. Academic Mindsets ............................ 165
3. Learning Psychology and Strategies ............ 167
4. Academic Perseverance ........................ 170
C. Countering Stereotype Threat ..................... 172


IV. Implementing a Law School Bar Exam Preparation Program: An Overview of FIU's Program .............. 175
A. What I Saw at FIU When I Arrived ............... 175
B. Academic Support For 1L and 2L Students ........ 177
C. Advanced Legal Analysis .......................... 177
D. Law & Procedure .................................. 179
E. Bar Exam Success Program (BESP)................ 180
F. Developing Noncognitive Skills in the Bar Prep Program .......................................... 181
1. Academic Behaviors ........................... 182
2. Academic Perseverance and Growth Mindset . . . 184
3. Science of Learning ............................ 186
G. Controlling the Message: Exclusion of Commercial Bar Exam Preparation Companies from Campus ... 189


V. Statistical Analysis of Effectiveness ................... 190
A. Analysis of the Evolution of Predictors for Bar Passage at FIU .................................... 191
1. Methodology and Data Used in Regression ..... 191
2. Model 1 - Incoming 1L Predictors .............. 193
3. Model 2 - Immediate Post-1L Predictors ........ 194
4. Model 3 - Post-3L Predictors ................... 195
5. Conclusion .................................... 202
B. Linear Regression Analysis of FIU Performance on Exceeding Florida Bar Exam Statewide Average . . . 202
1. Methodology and Data Used in Regression ..... 203


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2. Analysis of Regression Results ................. 205


VI. Conclusion ............................................ 205


VII. Appendix ............................................. 207

I. INTRODUCTION

American law schools are facing a bar exam passage challenge. Declining passage rates since 2011 have led many law schools to implement or improve academic support and bar preparation programs in their law schools with the goal of improving bar passage rates. Considering these rates, combined with the ABA's recent revision to Standard 316 requiring 75% bar passage rates for students within two years of graduation to maintain accreditation, [1] the pressure to help our students succeed in the final step of becoming licensed attorneys has never been higher.

Many law schools run internal bar exam preparation programs suboptimally and can do more to help students pass their bar exam on their first attempt. Too often, schools focus solely on reteaching doctrine or test-taking gimmicks to students in final semester bar exam preparation courses. They can hardly be blamed, as there is a dearth of useful information on how best to implement an effective law school bar exam preparation program. Apart from the decision to focus on reteaching doctrine in a bar preparation course, other design questions exist that must be addressed, including whether to make the program required for all students, whether commercial bar exam preparation vendors or doctrinal faculty should teach the course, and whether the law school should consider "teaching to the bar." Too often, though, little thought is given to the question of what skills students need to pass a bar exam, apart from knowledge of the relevant black letter law, and how an effective law school bar exam preparation program can develop and reinforce those skills.

In January 2015, the FIU College of Law appointed me as the Director of Bar Exam Preparation. My goal in modernizing the program was simple: exceed the Florida average bar exam passage rate and remain competitive with other schools in the state in our same tier. The students that participated in the program in just the first semester of its creation helped the FIU College of Law achieve the highest bar exam passage rate in Florida for the July 2015 bar examination. [2] These were students that had not yet participated fully in our developing 1L and 2L academic support program. What we had done with

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these students in just three months seemed to have worked, but I could not rule out that this was simply a stroke of luck. Subsequent results would prove that the ideology of effective law school bar preparation course design was working, and our students secured many impressive bar results on the Florida Bar Exam. It is important to share my ideology of effective bar exam preparation with other law schools so that they may help improve their own bar passage rates.

This Article will discuss the theory guiding the design of an effective law school bar exam preparation program. It will also discuss how that design was implemented at the FIU College of Law, starting with the July 2015 test-takers, and how I evaluated the effectiveness of the program to determine whether it made a difference to those students whose predictors suggested bar passage would be a challenge. This Article is based on both best practices from academic literature on noncognitive factors that have been incorporated into the FIU College of Law bar exam preparation program's design as well as the real-world lessons learned from running a law school bar exam preparation program.

II. WHAT IS CAUSING LOW BAR PASSAGE RATES?

This is a difficult question that will not be answered with any certainty in this Article. Instead, we will explore various studies that have attempted to identify key predictors of bar exam success and explore other factors that may be contributing to the phenomenon with the goal of determining whether law school bar exam preparation programs can make a difference in stemming the tide of low bar passage rates.

Since 2011, the percentage of law graduates that successfully passed a bar exam on their first attempt has steadily declined. The July 2018 bar exam administration saw the lowest average scaled MBE score since 1984. [3] The February 2018 exam saw the lowest average scaled MBE score in its entire history. [4] The February 2019 and July 2019 MBE scores increased over their respective 2018 numbers but still hovered around the 2017 numbers. [5] Despite this, there is hope that the 2019 MBE averages signal a turnaround in bar passage

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rates, and recent data support the theory that we are on the cusp of such a turnaround for bar exam passage rates.

It was the July 2014 bar exam that first indicated an accelerated declining trend. In a memorandum to law school deans, National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE)...

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